- Number 427 |
- November 24, 2014
Does synthetic biology hold the key to manned exploration of Mars and the Moon? Researchers with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) carried out a techno-economic analysis demonstrating “the significant utility” of deploying non-traditional biological techniques for manned long-duration space missions.
“Not only does synthetic biology promise to make the travel to extraterrestrial locations more practical and bearable, it could also be transformative once explorers arrive at their destination,” says Adam Arkin, director of the Physical Biosciences Division at DOE's Berkeley Lab and a leading authority on synthetic and systems biology.
“During flight, the ability to augment fuel and other energy needs, to provide small amounts of needed materials, plus renewable, nutritional and taste-engineered food, and drugs-on-demand can save costs and increase astronaut health and welfare,” Arkin says. “At an extraterrestrial base, synthetic biology could even make more effective use of the catalytic activities of diverse organisms.”
Scientists at DOE's Ames Laboratory have developed deeper understanding of the ideal design for mesoporous nanoparticles used in catalytic reactions, such as hydrocarbon conversion to biofuels.
The research will help determine the optimal diameter of channels within the nanoparticles to maximize catalytic output: narrow enough to fit as many pores in each particle as possible to maximize the number of catalytic sites – but wide enough for catalytic products and reactants to easily squeeze by each other and efficiently complete the reaction. To determine this “sweet spot” for channel diameter, scientists ran millions of simulation trials to better understand how molecules move past each other within the channel.
Scientists at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have made the first direct observations of a one-dimensional boundary separating two different, atom-thin materials, enabling studies of long-theorized phenomena at these interfaces.
Theorists have predicted the existence of intriguing properties at one-dimensional (1-D) boundaries between two crystalline components, but experimental verification has eluded researchers because atomically precise 1-D interfaces are difficult to construct.
“While many theoretical studies of such 1-D interfaces predict striking behaviors, in our work we have provided the first experimental validation of those interface properties,” said ORNL’s An-Ping Li.
Shipworms have been called “termites of the sea” because they’ve been vexing seafarers for centuries. Among the problems attributed to them are events such as flooding of the Netherlands in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they were also responsible for an estimated $15 million in damages to the wharves of San Francisco, California around 1920.
For bioenergy researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, the shipworm’s destructive capabilities could prove useful for the industrial production of advanced biofuels from plants. For this reason, under the DOE JGI’s Community Science Program, a team led by collaborator Daniel Distel, Director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center of New England Biolabs at Northeastern University, has focused on the shipworm Bankia setacea to learn more about the enzymes it utilizes to break down wood for nutrition.